Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: Viking Armament "CRUCIBLE" AR-15

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Most of you reading our blog articles are gun owners or active firearms enthusiasts, and you probably are already aware that there are a plethora of AR-15 rifle manufacturers to choose from. Some are excellent, some are med-level at best and some are not worth the money. If you've got the need and the money, you'll probably shell out a good amount of coin for a high-end rifle, but most everyday guys and gals don't have $5-7k to dump onto a custom rifle. Therefore they go to their local gun-store and pick out a ready made AR-15 rifle with all the fixins' off the shelf for $1,000 to $2,000 or so. There are cheaper models available, minus the bling, but you do get what you pay for when it comes to firearms. That's just the reality of it all. Sure we all love to see the Instagram and Facebook promo pictures of the beautiful high-end rifles with some ultra-badass operator ninja super-soldier modeling it, but the reality is, most average people won't pony up the kind of funds required to own a custom rifle like that. Instead these average Joe's live their hot-brass dreams through the use of a low to mid-grade store bought rifle. And honestly, there is nothing wrong with that!

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BUT,.... if you could spend less money and get a better quality rifle, why wouldn't you? Let me introduce you to a little know manufacturer from Grand Junction Colorado called Viking ArmamentViking Armament makes several lines of AR styled rifles; CRUCIBLE, ULFBERHT, Ullr, Mjolnir, and the TYR. So, what makes these rifles any better than some of the main stream named rifles out there on the gun-store walls? Well...they may not be better per se as that's all relative to one's opinion, but you definitely get more than what you pay for if you are comparing rifle to rifle.
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We did our testing and evaluation using the mid-length CRUCIBLE model (Caliber 5.56 mm/.223 rem), since that is their "base model" rifle, and probably the most likely one to be used by the average budget minded shooter. It's comes standard with a 16.5 inch SOCOM Nitride barrel (inside and out). Nitride barrells are generally cheaper than chrome lined and stainless barrells, as manufacturers use a bath process to impart an extremely hard layer to the surface of the steel. Nitriding is harder and has more lubricity than chrome and does not add inconsistency to the thickness of the bore. The CRUCIBLE model starts off at respectable MSRP of $1,299 and comes with MagPul stock and Sights, Hexmag Magazine, Ergo Grip, Single Point Bungee Sling and a Soft Case. Let me just say, you do not usually get that much product for that kind of a price at most retail gun stores.

First Impressions
My first impression of the rifle was that is was of average build quality. When you first hold the rifle, you'll notice the weight....it appears lighter than other standard AR's that I've used. In fact, everyone that I've let shoot the rifle stated how light it was and how good it felt in your hands. The lower is a Viking Armament patented receiver made in house, while the grip, adjustable stock and upper are outsourced parts. The lower and upper had a slight wiggle (which is common with AR's and easily fixable), the Ergo grip felt perfect and the slim lines of the SLR Solo hand-guard felt just right for easy weapon manipulation during movement and range drills. The weapon felt very well balanced overall and we were eager to begin the testing and evaluation process to see how well it performed. Note: It is important to note that all of the Viking Armament rifles are manufactured in their shop and sourced with 100% USA partners. 
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Looking closer at the Viking Armament patented lower receiver, you'll notice the attention to detail they took on the markings and placement of the sling-ring (which is a nice touch). Also, you won't miss that the mag-well is slanted at a 45 degree angle on one side (right or left depending on your rifle configuration). This is a unique design feature difference that sets the rifle apart from the store-bought brands. The slant is there to allow a user to conduct a mag exchange from various side angles, instead of the limited straight up and down exchange of most AR mag-wells. Hypothetically, and with some additional training, this increased area could make it possible to change magazines without ever taking your eyes off your target, no matter your position. During our testing we tried various exchange positions and techniques, and honestly I found it easier to seat the magazine securely in times of high stress, especially while on the move. Admittedly this mag-well design might not be for everyone, but the option of inserting a magazine at an angle while in a tight or awkward position that would otherwise not allow a proper mag-exchange (such as while sitting in a vehicle) was an added bonus. You can still conduct normal mag-exchanges if you don't want to change your technique. Again, it was about options, and it was nice to have them in such a reasonably priced weapon.
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Initial Testing and Evaluation
In the short time that we've had the rifle, we've taken it on several range days thus far, placing hundreds if not thousands of rounds downrange and it has performed flawlessly. It has never "jammed" or malfunctioned; it took all the abuse we could throw at it (and still is). In all, the rifle performed very well. More testing is commencing as this article is written, so a follow-up article may appear here shortly.
One thing we did notice during some extended firing sessions was some very minor gas blow-back, particularly near the charging handle area. Initially we thought the weapon was slightly "overlubed" near the BCG, but after further inspection we noticed that the gas ports on the bolt carrier group were angled outward a bit (almost wall-eyed), where as other BCG's are straight in. Normally these ports allow gas to blow out to the side and not back into the shooters face, but in this case, for whatever reason gas blew backwards lightly coating my eye-glasses in a film of Froglube. Could've been a simple fluke, or too much lube, but we wanted to bring it up just in case.
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Closing Summary
All in all, I'd rate this a 7 out of a possible 10. I liked the rifle. It's a good firearm for a basic-level shooter, that isn't looking to spend a lot on their first or second rifle. It's light, its quality made, under $1,300 and it's only 16.5". Also, its American made.
16.5″ barrels with mid-length gas, when ported correctly, can be very reliable for everyday work but also still remain useful in a competitive setting. This rifle is probably an ideal combo rifle for a patrol officer wanting a “jack-of-all-trades” rifle for work and maybe even for some minor competition shooting. We'd recommend it for any budget minded shooter looking for a decent rifle. If you'd like more information, be sure to visit www.vikingarmament.com.
Editors Note: 
After initial testing we replaced the stock muzzle brake with a PRI MSTN Quiet Control Brake / Compensator system to reduce any felt recoil or climb of the muzzle (and to the right). The QCB has been cut from solid stainless steel bar stock for greater resistance to heat and burnout and while loud, it worked fine on this weapon system. It does not come stock with this weapon system. We just wanted to be clear about that and avoid any questions as a result of the switch.

Rifle Specs:
Color: Black Anodized Style: AR15/M4 Standard Caliber 5.56mm (223rem) (optional 6.5 Grendel, 300 AAC Blackout, 12.7x42) Barrel: 16.5in SOCOM Nitride inside and out (optional 7.5in, and 10.5in) NFA SBR paperwork required.
All rifles are offered in any Cerakote for an additional up-charge, see dealer pricing for additional information.

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